Team-Building Experiences

Many people across the world have experienced Human Synergistics International’s team-building exercises. These innovative team activities are based on the concept of synergy—that people working together can achieve better results than they can individually.

The Subarctic Survival Situation™ is one of our most popular group problem-solving survival simulations. Here are some of our clients’ experiences with the Subarctic Survival Situation from published periodicals, websites, and books.

"That night, [Colleen McGuffin, the Fargo general manager] led everyone out into the sub-freezing weather to stand and shiver for five minutes. Back in the warmth of The Rivery, she divided them into…teams. ‘We picked some people who weren’t working well together, and some people who’ve never worked together,’ she explains. Each team was then given a sub-Arctic (sic) survival situation kit…by Human Synergistics International. …One group…had problems. ‘There were lots of opinions, and two leaders with opposite views,’ McGuffin says.  

“Later…McGuffin noticed that one member’s scores were markedly better than the group’s as a whole, a sure sign of lousy communication. …a previously quiet team member…suddenly spoke up.‘…I’ve been trained in Arctic survival. But I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want everyone to think I’m a know-it-all.’ Lesson: If you don’t have the expertise, figure out who does; if you do have the expertise, say so. Communicate or die.”

Excerpt from: Rosenbluth Rodeo Rob Walker Fast Company

"I would recommend this experiment highly. It does a great job of showing how to improve team work and communication. It is also a great way to get to know your team better!”

Excerpt from: Lessons learned from the Subarctic Survival Situation Dan Scovill fyi solutions blog 

“Is improving leadership really as simple as maximizing extroversion? Empirical evidence is actually far more mixed than the HBS curriculum might lead one to believe. For example, in one team-building exercise at HBS [Harvard Business School], students engage in a role-playing game called the Subarctic Survival Situation.  

“The exercise sometimes serves as an object lesson in the dangers of assertiveness within a group, as the most assertive person may not have the best ideas. Yet it is often assertiveness—not correctness—that determines whose ideas are chosen.  

“The question then becomes: how much assertiveness is the right amount?”

Excerpt from: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking Susan Cain New York, NY: Crown Publishers 

“Why a simulation?  

- ‘Because wisdom cannot be told.’ - Action/involvement is vital to how people learn. (We learn by doing.)”

Excerpt from: Subarctic Survival Simulation Elaine Bernard, Ph.D. Labor & Worklife Program Harvard Law School 

“The most memorable example of the power of teamwork in solving problems was from an exercise I participated in over 16 years ago. It was such a compelling lesson about teams solving problems, I still have the exercise booklet. The exercise is from a company called Human Synergistics and was a ‘Subarctic Survival Situation’.  

“The much lower team score illustrated the value of teamwork in analyzing and assessing important issues about what was truly important to survival…. The fact that I kept the exercise book all these years demonstrates how compelling this lesson was.”

Excerpt from: You’re a Manager—Shouldn’t you have all the answers? Michael Theriault, author of “Lead your Team, Don’t Just Manage” Success Fuel for Managers 

“To be honest, I also thought the Subarctic Exercise was quite instructive…”

Excerpt from: Round Trip – Aldrich 108 to Mt. Kilimanjaro Nikhil Gadkari The Harbus Online Student Newspaper of the Harvard Business School 

“Community building should be a key component to any ‘Introduction to Engineering’ course aimed at enhancing student success. An effective way I have found to introduce community building in my ‘Introduction to Engineering’ class is through the use of survival simulations.  

“One particularly effective survival simulation is the ‘Sub-Artic (sic) Survival Situation’ developed by Human Synergistics International. The objective of the simulation is to build team consensus and develop decision-making skills by presenting a survival challenge in a remote area. The sub-artic (sic) survival situation is a scenario in which a plane crash has marooned survivors in a frigid and isolated environment with only minimal salvaged items. Team members are required to rank these items individually and then as a group, according to their survival value. The team ranks are compared to an “expert’s'” rank in order to provide a frame of reference. Generally, the team rank outscores the individual rank indicating efficient use of the group’s resources and team synergy. However, on occasion, individual rankings may outscore the group scores indicating a breakdown in group dynamics. Possible reasons for group breakdowns may be discussed with the students. Through this process, students are exposed to the behaviors and skills necessary for effective teamwork.  

“The exercise is easy to facilitate. Participant booklets and a video describe the scenario (complete with a topographic map of the sub-artic (sic) region) and present the survival challenge. A scoring grid facilitates individual and team score comparisons. Especially dramatic is the accompanying video, which uses a sight-and-sound reenactment to provide a sense of realism that immediately engages the students.  

“I have found that the sub-artic (sic) survival simulation is fun and naturally encourages student participation. It is a good ‘icebreaker’ for a freshman orientation class, and since the simulation is interactive and team-oriented, students gain an understanding of what is involved in the group decision-making process (group dynamics). Students learn that in order to ‘survive,’ they must cooperate and support one another, that the collective is greater than the individual, and that teamwork is necessary for enhancing their success in their academic and professional careers.”

Excerpt from: Survival Simulations Mark Tufenkjian Success 101